Monday, March 19, 2012

An apology

Firstly, I am sorry that I have been putting up with posts with no reviews on them.  I will edit them soon to contain the reviews.

Secondly, for the next month, I will not be posting at all.  I will instead be working on my own book.  An effort will be made to not engage in non-creative activities, with the exception of schoolwork, and this includes reading.

I will continue the blog on my birthday, April 18th.

On a lighter note, if you know of any books that you would like me to review once this period is over, please let me know.  I'm always open to suggestion.

Shannah McGill

Friday, March 9, 2012

Cirque Du Freak by Darren Shan

There's a freak show coming to town.  It's hushed up, since freak shows are illegal, but Darren Shan and his friend Steve are able to get tickets.  Darren sees wondrous things that he had never thought possible.  One of them is a man with a large spider that he can control with a flute.  Soon, he gets it in his head to steal that spider, which leads to a charming adventure filled with secrets and monsters.  Vampires are involved.
The prose seemed incredibly familiar to me, but for a while I couldn't place it.  I soon realized that I had read words that flowed in a similar fashion in every interview I had ever read, from the ones in science magazines to those of famous authors.  It sounded in my head like a real person was speaking the words.  There were a few too many exclamation points for my taste, but I could never manage to pinpoint a single occasion when one seemed off.  This gave it a realistic quality like no fantasy book I have ever read.  It was incredibly easy to slip into the pages and ignore the passing of time.  An excellent read.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Wool 3 by Hugh Howey

Juliette, the new mayor, has to get used to her job, which is far different from being a mechanic.  Interested in the person who held her seat before her, she asks for the file on Holston, and then for the contents of his wife's computer.  She learns everything about the cleaning that makes Holston's wife go insane.  Meanwhile, she talks with Lukas, who is working on mapping out the stars from the occasional breaks in the clouds.  Slowly, we are given a picture of the world behind the world the characters live in.

I have never had a book get me so emotionally involved before.  I literally screamed "Yes!" like a sports fan near the end.  Wool 3 is one of the greatest books I've ever read, and I've read thousands.  It seems very different from Wool, but when you think about it, the events in Wool 3 wouldn't have happened without the events in Wool.  I just can't wait to read the next one, because the ending creates more problems than it resolves.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Wool 2 by Hugh Howey

Wool 2 expanded the giant silo that the characters live in to well over a hundred floors.  With Holston gone, Jahns, the mayor, has to find a new sheriff.  The current deputy highly suggests Juliette, who works with the mechanics at the bottom of the silo.  On the way down, they meet with the mysterious IT people who run the servers.

Two books came into my mind while reading this.  The first was The World Inside, where people live in buildings hundreds of stories tall and entire communities exist in floors next to each other.  The second was The City of Ember, where a generator that powers an underground city is failing.

Most of the drama in the first book is lost, and Wool 2 seems to be more about constructing the world.  It also had a bunch of useless, needless romantic content that did nothing but add to the word count.  It made me respect the Jahns and Marne a whole lot less.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Wool by Hugh Howey

This is the first in a series.  The protagonist, Holston, a sheriff in an underground world, is about to kill himself.  He doesn't think he's killing himself, but society sure does.  Nobody can go above ground because of the toxic air, but condemned criminals go up as their death sentence and must clean the device that monitors the outside world before they die.  Holston's wife three years ago begged to be let out because she said that she had discovered a secret, and Holston trusts that she found something worth him following her.

I loved Wool from the start to the finish.  It seemed to be going one way through the whole book, but the last few sentences changed everything.  My only question is exactly what the wife discovered that made her want out so badly.  Read it and you'll see why that's a valid concern.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Skellig by David Almond

Michael has just moved to a new house with a garage full of junk.  On his new street is a home-schooled girl named Mina who knows much more than he does.  In his garage is a creature called Skellig, who asks for Chinese food and painkillers, and might just have wings.  Meanwhile, Michael's baby sister is sick.

It's nowhere near as good as Kit's Wilderness by the same author, but it's still a decent book.  Skellig seems too short, as if it could easily encompass twice as many pages.  The plot has a bit of a rushed feeling, especially near the end.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Battle Royale by Koushun Takami

Shuya, star of the baseball team, is part of a middle school class that gets chosen for the Program.  In the Program, they are all pitted against each other on a small island in a fight to the death.  Shuya almost instantly teams up with Shogo, who seems to know an awful lot about everything, and the injured Noriko. 

Every single death is shown.  There are dozens of students, and I don't think it would be a spoiler to say that due to the nature of the Program, almost all of them die.  You get to read about each one, and except for a couple of them at the very beginning, each one becomes a well-developed character.

If you have enough spare time to read through 600 pages, Battle Royale is an excellent choice.  There are moments to make you laugh, but they are few and far between.  There are moments to make you cry.  These are a bit more common, but not so much as you would think.  Most of the moments, however, are there to make you marvel at the incredible depth of this incredible book.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Lunch-Box Dream by Tony Abbott

Bobby, who has anger issues and is obsessed, and I mean crazy obsessed, with death, is on a family trip.  He has to head south to drop off his grandmother and is stuck the entire time with his brother, Ricky, who is crazy about the Civil War.  Meanwhile, Jacob is going off to live with a different family for a while, but he's desperate to return home to his older sister.   The book is set in the South in 1959, with the Jim Crow laws everywhere.  Bobby's family is white, and Jacob's family is black.

I absolutely loved the part where Bobby described what it must have been like for the people so long ago to all wait for the train that carried Lincoln's body.  For that image alone, Lunch-Box Dream should belong with some of the classics of literature.

I wasn't expecting much from this book because I had read Firegirl, by the same author, and found that it followed a standard literary formula.  Lunch-Box Dream was much better.  I will have Bobby's imagined image of the people standing at the tracks at night waiting in me forever.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

A Country Doctor: Short Prose for my Father by Franz Kafka

 A Country Doctor is a little-known collection of short stories by the incredible Kafka.  Each word compels you to read the next.  These short stories are the book form of an Escher painting.

Unlike Kafka's other story collections, I could not find an interpretation for what all of the stories meant on the internet.  I'm just not smart enough to figure it out for more than a couple of them, and if you know the meaning behind the one about jackals and Arabs, please comment.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Stand by Alex McFarland

Stand is about several of the core truths that define the Christian faith.  The author attempts very badly to assure people of the facts and reasoning behind these core truths.  He also mentions all of the debates with atheists that he's had.  These atheists have the incredible quality of being even worse at arguing theology than he is.

Stand makes being a Christian look bad.  I'd be surprised if nobody converted to atheism after reading it.  Alex McFarland talks many times in the book about all of the atheists that he has debated with, and each one of them probably needs to be checked in to the nearest mental hospital after going for his false arguments and logical fallacies.  A couple of his "proofs" for why the Bible is true could also be used to prove that Homer's Odyssey is true!  Worse yet is that he indicates that he has actually read authors such as C. S. Lewis who present decent, logical arguments.  Alex McFarlane basically takes a bunch of facts he's researched and personal experiences of his and puts them together in ways that MAKE NO SENSE WHATSOEVER.

If you are an atheist who likes to laugh at Christians, get a Chick Tract.  This book is filled with too much other stuff for that.  If you are a Christian looking for the core truths of Christianity, avoid Stand like the plague if you don't want to cringe at Alex McFarland's stupidity every couple of pages.  If, however, you are looking for some good toilet paper, kindling material, or paper to line the bottom of your bird cage, and you want to pay a fair amount of money for it, you might just be in luck with Stand.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Quidditch Through the Ages by J. K. Rowling

It's a comprehensive guide to everything about Quidditch.  This is the other book written by J. K. Rowling to go along with the Harry Potter books.  Most of the book is about the history and origins of the game.  For example, Quidditch got its name because it originated in a place called Queerditch, and the golden snitch used to be a bird called the snidget.

On the back of the book, it says that some Quidditch fans look in the book every day.  The book is a little over fifty pages.  It seems like within a couple of months, these fans would be able to recite the entire thing word for word.

When I bought this one and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, I thought that the latter would be far more interesting, but Quidditch Through the Ages was fascinating.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them by J. K. Rowling

This and another book, Quidditch Through the Ages, are little-known (relative to the main series, of course) companion books to the Harry Potter universe.  Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is a bestiary that describes in detail all of the beasts mentioned, and some of the ones not mentioned, in the Harry Potter universe.  This is also apparently a reproduction of Harry's own textbook, so it has graffiti in it from both Harry and Ron.  There is a forward by Albus Dumbledore as well.

One of the interesting things in the book is that the Acromantula, a giant spider, can achieve leg-spans of up to fifteen feet.  Now, most spiders have a small body compared to their legs, and the Acromantula in the movie was no exception.  However, no mention of magic was used to explain how a female can have up to 100 eggs in her body, and have each one the size of a beach ball without her exploding.  To say that she just stretches to accommodate the eggs would make her stretchier than a female termite.  Beach balls are big.  That many of them would make a female Acromantula far too large to do anything like, say, move.

Otherwise, I enjoyed the book.  I would have preferred a few more illustrations, but, like anything J. K. Rowling writes, it was fun for me to read.  Only read it if you've read the Harry Potter series, though.  Otherwise I would imagine it could get quite confusing.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Girl in the Green Raincoat by Laura Lippman

Tess Monaghan has been a private investigator for years, and the ultimate calamity has just hit: pregnancy!  She can't stand being cooped up due to the conditions of her pregnancy when she could be working on a case.  Then one of the dog-walkers she sees out her window every day goes missing.  The dog is found, but not the walker.  Also, it turns out that the dog-walker's husband has had numerous dead wives and girlfriends before.  Though it's mainly to humor a pregnant woman, her friends help her to figure out all of the facts before the man can strike again.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Playing for Pizza by John Grisham

Rick Dockery just got fired from his last NFL team by losing the entire game in eleven minutes.  The book starts with him in a hospital.  Outside the hospital, fans of the Browns, the team he had just lost the game for, are holding a riot.  His agent, Arnie, can't get any team to touch him.  That is, until Arnie starts looking in some very far-away places.  Rick is soon on a flight to, of all places, Italy, where American Football is a little-known sport with poorly financed teams and only a small cult following.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels

The Communist Manifesto details the viewpoint of the Communist Party of 1848.  Many people at the time had misconceptions about both the standpoint and the reasons behind it.  There were also a lot of common arguments that the manifesto tried to dispel. 

I personally love to read about other people's philosophies, so this was a fun read for me.  Even though the philosophy in question has caused so much trouble in our world, it was still fun to read about.  If you're looking for books with the most historical significance, this would probably also make the top ten.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Trouble at Fort La Pointe by Kathleen Ernst

Suzette/A'wajac lives near a fur trading post at Lake Superior in 1732.  Her mother is an Ojibwe Indian and her father is a Frenchman.  Her father, Philippe, wants to stay with her and her mother, but the trapping company he works for demands that he returns to France for most of the year.  If he can pay off a year of debt, however, he can stay with his family year-round.  He has entered into a contest to see who can catch the most furs in a season to pay off the debt.  Unfortunately, some furs have recently been stolen, which calls off the entire contest!  Even worse, Philippe is the number one suspect!

It seemed like the kind of plot you could copy and paste into any setting.  There was nothing new about the story besides the time period.  It reminds me of pretty much every single other children's mystery book I've read.  The setting did add some interest to it, and it was by no means a bad read, but if you read this book, don't expect to think about it for hours afterwards. 

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Obedience to Authority by Stanley Milgram

Stanley Milgram once made a famous experiment that changed the way we think about authority.  Obedience to Authority explains in detail the experiment and the conclusions that can be drawn from it.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Kill Me If You Can by James Patterson

It all starts with Matthew Bannon, who I will from now on refer to as Matty Sue, finding some diamonds.  Several millions of dollars worth of diamonds are in a locker next to a dead Russian man.  The struggling (but still incredibly talented) artist immediately picks them up and tricks the police with a deception on the spot.  Matty Sue returns to his drop-dead gorgeous girlfriend and surprises her with a trip to Paris with his newfound millions.  There appear to be two competing hit-men going after Matty Sue and the gorgeous Katherine as they move from country to country.  They make love everywhere they go.  Katherine quite rightly tells Matty Sue that he is the best lover ever.  Not to mention incredibly handsome and pretty much invincible from his time in the navy.  He also has another, secret skill that he is also the best in the world at.  The Russians have many contacts and many resources, so Matty Sue has to keep on his toes to evade them!  The woman hit-man chasing him is, of course, very beautiful.  In fact, I am beginning to suspect that this book is set in an post-apocalyptic world where any woman who is not drop-dead gorgeous has been ruthlessly eliminated.

Matthew Bannon is the kind of person who thinks that when you have flaws, it means that you have the white string that the dentists tell you to use.  His time in the navy has enabled him to lift hundreds of pounds and still make "funny" remarks.  He stays under the aforementioned weight for hours and only gets a few cracked ribs.  Matty Sue is apparently incredibly handsome, as evidenced by the random waitress who can't wait to get romantic with him.  His art cannot be criticized.  Bad things happen to those in the book who tell him that his art is anything but brilliant.  They are obviously pathetic, repugnant people for having different tastes than him.  Besides, there's no need to change even if he's doing horribly.  After all, his girlfriend is the art teacher, ensuring him a perfect score on everything.  All who see Matty Sue's marvelous drawings are blown away by their sheer awesomeness.  Another fun trait of Matty Sue is that he speaks all of the languages in the world except for Russian.  Italian and Dutch spring easily to mind.  Matty Sue has the best kind of friends: those who he never even thinks about for most of the book, but who randomly pop up whenever he has n other way out.  Trapped on a boat, Matty Sue?  Get your never-before-mentioned buddy Kino to help!  One of his other friends is one of the best snipers in the world, because Matty Sue can't have everything for himself.  The only thing that was flawed about Matty Sue was his penchant for making the worst jokes known to man throughout the book.

This also must be taking place in a world where demons and angels are fighting, and not humans, because the bad guys have zero redeeming qualities, and the good guys have zero flaws.  Really?  Incest?  Is everybody who isn't on the protagonist's side in a league with Satan or what?  Not to mention the guy who doesn't like Matty Sue's art.  What a horrible crime.

If you need eye exercise, read this.  You will roll your eyes after every chapter, and sometimes in the middles of chapters as well.  You might even get a better view of the ceiling than the pages.  Otherwise, Kill Me If You Can is a book to stay away from if you can.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Nature by Ralph Waldo Emerson

Nature tells of one man's philosophy, which is centered around, well, nature.  Ralph Waldo Emerson believed that through observing nature as a child does, somebody could find happiness and meaning in their life.  The book centers around the untouched qualities of nature and the unimaginable qualities of God.  Understanding the first one is the only way to get a glimpse of the second.

This is the work that inspired transcendentalism.  Thoreau and others all got their inspiration from Nature.  Whether you agree or disagree with its philosophy, Nature is an important read, historically.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Sorry

No post today.  I recently started the new semester of school.  Also, my favorite websites have beckoned me away from my books.  I apologize.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Kneller's Happy Campers by Etgar Keret

Mordy is a teenage boy who has killed himself.  He lives in a place with the rest of the suicides.  They all show signs of how they died: people who hanged themselves have broken necks and people who shot themselves have bullet wounds.  Mordy is a Juliet, or somebody who was offed by poison.  He and his friend Uzi soon find out that Mordy's girlfriend, Desiree, has offed herself as well.  They set off on a quest to find Desiree, but on the way, they come across a "camp" run by a man named Kneller.  Miracles happen all the time at this camp, but only miracles that don't matter.  They hear of the "King Messiah" (quite obviously Jesus, as his name is Joshua and he can perform miracles that are planned and not insignificant) and go to find him and hopefully Desiree.

Suicides are put into a strange world that seems a bit worse, but has many redeeming qualities: who wouldn't want their water to randomly come out as soda?  Every character except for Uzi and Mordy seems to be in the periphery, but you put down the book knowing a lot about everybody.  The chapters are short and a lot of them end on a punchline.  Even though apparently there has been a movie made after it, Kneller's Happy Campers is a pretty obscure book, which is a shame, because it's also pretty good.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Naked in the Woods by Jim Motavelli

One day around the turn of the century (not this century, the last one,) Joseph Knowles stripped naked and lived for a month in the woods of Maine.  Well, maybe.  Probably not.  It's widely agreed today that Knowles pulled off an enormous hoax.  Afterwards, he slowly warmed up to being a public figure.  As soon as the newspapers started calling him a fraud, Knowles staged a second trip to the woods, but this trip was moved to the background of the minds of the public because of the first World War.  He tried several times after that to become famous again, and even proposed another trip, this time with a woman who was an actress to boot, but nothing worked.  The rest of his life was spent in a driftwood cabin on the beach, making art. 

Naked in the Woods does not only tell the story of Joseph Knowles.  It also talks about everyone and everything related to him.  It goes off on tangents in every chapter, but the tangents are fun to read and give a wonderful cultural picture of the era.  It's clear throughout that Jim Motavelli worked hard to research for Naked in the Woods, contacting everybody who would have known anything about Joseph Knowles or those close to him.  Reading about him, I find it sad that Knowles is no longer well-known. 

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Contemplation by Franz Kafka

Contemplation is a collection of short stories.  I almost wouldn't even call them short stories.  If they were short stories, they would at least last a few pages.  The majority are under a page and a few are even a single paragraph.  "The Trees" in particular is only four short sentences that are loaded with repetition.  Naturally, even the tiny ones are soaked in symbolism.

The stories are consistently written in the same tone as the one in the Beatles' song "A Day in the Life".  The mundane and the surreal are mixed, often at the last sentence.  Sometimes, the story makes no sense without the symbolism, as in "The Wish to be and Indian", where a Native American is portrayed riding a horse that slowly disappears.  Others are fun and the symbolism is easy to miss, like in "Children on a Country Road", which might not actually represent anything. 

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

In the Penal Colony by Franz Kafka

A traveler is visiting a foreign island, and has been invited to an execution.  The officer who runs the execution machine is extremely enthusiastic about it.  He tells the traveler all about how the machine operates: strapped and unable to scream, a harrow-like device scratches words into their back that designate the crime.  The gashes get gradually deeper until the person gets stuck through the back and dies.  Around six hours in, the experience becomes religious for the prisoner.  The officer decides who gets executed without any trial, and the general feeling is that anybody who is accused gets put on the machine.  He is following the ways of the old commandant, who everybody loved in his time, but who the officer is now the sole supporter of.  The new commandant is against the machine's use.  The officer is ashamed about how the machine, once gleaming, is now falling apart, and it is getting harder and harder to find replacement parts for things that wear out.  The traveler has to decide whether to keep the machine and perhaps return it to its former glory or to do away with the machine entirely.  It's a no-brainer, of course: get rid of the monstrous torture device.  In the hopes of getting a religious epiphany, the officer puts himself on the machine for its last run, with the message "be just" and the help of the former condemned man.  The machine breaks down and kills him before he can have the religious experience.  The traveler then goes to a tea house to visit the grave of the old commandant.  It says on the tombstone that the old commandant will someday return, which makes the others in the tea house smile and laugh.  The traveler leaves, and the soldier and the condemned man desperately try to follow him.

Let's start with the message of "Be Just".  The old commandant is quite obviously is representation of the God of the old testament.  The officer bases his policies of being able to just pick who is guilty from the old commandant, and the number of followers the old commandant had in his day and the number of people that used to show up to the executions hints that the old commandant was always right when he chose the guilty.  The officer, lacking the wisdom or omniscience of the old commandant, picks those who have committed only minor crimes just to see the machine in action.  "Be Just" was the final command.  As the officer went longer and longer under the new commandant's rule, fewer and fewer people showed up and the machine was seen by the public as more and more barbaric, which suggests that the officer's aim has been steadily growing wayward.  The final command of "Be Just" was, as far as I can see, put there by an old commandant who knew that it would be eventually used on the officer.  The machine was designed to collapse at "Be Just".

The other thing that intrigued me was how the condemned man and the soldier tried to follow the traveler off the island.  It's interesting how he insists to see the grave and then leaves shortly after he sees the people smile and laugh at it.  Then the officer and the condemned man try desperately to follow him off the island.  The condemned man might have had a good reason, as the traveler saved his life, but the officer really didn't have that strong of a case.  The traveler might just have some relationship to the old commandant, though he is obviously not the old commandant's new form because he was ignorant of the workings of the torture machine.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Wild Animals I have Known by Ernest Thompson Seton

Wild Animals I have Known is a collection of short stories.  The first one is about a wolf that terrorized farmers for years until a large enough bounty was put on his head.  Then comes a crow that organizes the other crows like an army.  Raggylug the rabbit learns in the third short story how to live like a rabbit.  The fourth story is more personal and is about the author's own dog.  A cruel and beautiful family of foxes strive to outwit humans in the next short story.  Then several people try to tame a mustang, who is the champion of the western range.  Wully is a dog with a dark secret.  Finally, the last short story is about the life of the largest partridge in several states.

The problem that people in the time this book was written had was that he appeared to believe that the events in the stories were true and plausible.  I don't entirely know whether the introduction that said that Seton believed that these were perfectly true stories was sincere or the type of warning that goes with many books in the fiction sections, usually spoken by a character, assuring that the strangest of events are true.  Seton, along with many others, sparked a controversy about teaching the public misinformation about what animals can and can't do. 

Every last one is written in a prose that is flowery without growing boring.  It captures the spirit of the animal kingdom, and writes only of legendary creatures, never giving us one that we would think of as mundane or average.  Every story has the feel of a fairy-tale about it.  I was a bit annoyed by three of them ending in more or less the exact same way ("Lobo, the King of Currumpaw", "The Springfield Fox", and "The Pacing Mustang",) but Seton warns us in the beginning that many animals have their stories end that way.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Candor by Pam Bachorz

Music is always playing in the ideal suburbs of Candor.  The kicker is that the music is riddled with subliminal messages that tell the people of Candor how to behave perfectly.  Nobody is ever late or rude or delinquent.  Oscar is the son of the man who runs Candor, and he has long ago caught on to the subliminal messages.  While he maintains the fa├žade of being the perfect citizen of Candor, he helps others escape if they come to him before the messages take effect and they have enough money.  The latest client that he decides to help is a girl named Nia.  We all know what happens in any book when the protagonist and somebody new of the opposite gender get anywhere within the general vicinity of each other.

Throughout the first half of the book, it's very creepy how he sees Nia.  He cannot go an entire chapter without imagining her naked.  His imagination consists solely of a naked Nia against varying backdrops: Nia naked at the sprinklers, Nia naked at the pool, Nia naked at his house... the list goes on and on.  Then he lies to her about the messages.  For some reason that is never explained, he doesn't tell her that the messages exist.  He's even willing to get Sherman, who Oscar hates because Sherman is fat, completely mind-wiped and horribly damaged just so Nia won't hear about the messages.  Why is he withholding this information in the first place?  The world may never know.  Don't worry.  That horrible fat Sherman gets his mind wiped for a different reason that is entirely Oscar's fault.

Despite this, Candor is a really good book.  Nia especially is  incredible as a character.  Oscar's creepy lust eventually develops into genuine care.  The city of Candor is a marvelous dystopia.  It's actually based on a real city in Florida, designed by Disney, that planned many aspects of people's lives!  Obviously, the real city was nowhere near as controlling or sneaky as Candor.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Vurt by Jeff Noon

Scribble was in love with his sister, and they had a very... physical relationship, which is spelled out for the reader lovingly and with a lot of detail.  Unfortunately, while he and his sister were taking a hallucinogenic feather, she was lost to the feather's world, and in her place, a lump of slime and flesh from the vurt world.  Also, for some reason, this is how Earth would look with not just feathers that can be used as drugs, but also with five different sentient species (humans, robots, dogs, shadows, and creatures from the Vurt, or the land where the feathers take people) who can all interbreed.  There's high prejudice both for and against people who are "pure" or come from only one species. The vurt is not an alternate dimension or universe, but simple a collection of dreams that are solidified by these feathers.

He has a gang of friends that help him along.  The objective is to re-switch the blob creature and his sister, so that both of them are in the world they belong in.

If you're thinking, "Oh, as I read it, this will all make sense in the story, and I will get an explanation," then you're wrong.  All of the questions you have at the start you will still have at the end.  If a new concept is introduced, expect it to continue to be mentioned without any way for he reader to know what it is. 

Also, if you plan on reading the children's or YA book The Last Book in the Universe, expect to see a lot of familiarities.  The Last Book in the Universe is about a kid living in a world where everybody is obsessed with a form of hallucinogens who is on a quest to save his sister and writes a book about it afterwards.  Both Spaz and Scribble have a little kid who tags along with them, too.  Vurt was written first, and it is a fairly well-known science fiction novel, so we can just assume that The Last Book in the Universe blatantly copied was inspired by Vurt.


Despite leaving readers in confusion from beginning to end and never explaining the world, I loved Vurt.  Somehow, not knowing who exactly Hobar was, or what exactly the feathers did, made them new every time they were used.  The settings were fun, even when they were coated in dog poop.  In fact, the entire world seemed wondrous, despite being willed with poverty, addiction, and incest. 

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Fantastic Voyage by Isaac Asimov

We are at war with Them.  Both sides have developed the military technology of miniaturization, where things can be shrunk to any size.  The only catch is that the smaller someone is shrunk, the shorter they stay that way.  The only man who knows how to prolong miniaturization indefinitely is dying of a brain clot.  How will We ever win?

The answer is to miniaturize a bunch of people and a submarine and send them into the bloodstream to stop the clot.  Their pretty straightforward path gets sidetracked again and again as they end up exploring the heart, the lungs, and the brain, as well as many other parts of the body.

Now, in biology class, they had us play a similar video game to this, and this is a great case of me having a much better time reading a book than playing a video game.  The game's awkward controls didn't help the case.  I've also heard that Fantastic Voyage has been made into a movie, but I've never seen it.  I don't watch very many movies because they inevitably make everything look different from the way I imagined it, and whenever I think of the story thereafter, I always imagine the movie instead of the book.

The whole story seemed to me to involve a little too much of the author creating event after event to make a simple, straightforward journey last until the characters were running at the time.  Then I read the ending.  I don't want to give it away, but this is one of the only times where this is not the case. 

For somebody who doesn't know all of the technical details for the body, like me, Fantastic Voyage is filled with a new wonder around each page.  For somebody who does know all of those details, I imagine that it's a good read that proves that not everybody else is completely ignorant.  Either way, this book leads you on a suspenseful, scientific, and most of all, fantastic voyage.

Friday, January 27, 2012

The Great Divorce by C. S. Lewis

The Great Divorce starts with a man who has been walking through a grey city in the evening for a long time.  It's implied at the time to be hours, but later in the book, it's hinted that he's been there for a lot longer, anywhere from a few days to millions of years.  It's a dismal place filled with abandoned factories and the like.  He gets bored quickly and sees a line leading to a bus stop.  It's a long line, but he goes to the end of it.  People start leaving the line in front of him.  One leaves because he keeps getting insulted and hit and can't bear it long enough to get to where the line is going.  A couple go because they have no need for the line because they have each other.
He gets on the bus and talks to a few people.  When he gets off, he emerges in a whole new world.  he bus has flown to a wonderful new place where everything is several times more real.  The world is also many magnitudes more real than himself and the other passengers, and because what is fake cannot really affect what is real, he cannot move the blades of grass nor pick a daisy.  It is as if everything is made of immutable diamond.  This is heaven, and the place before was hell.  As soon as you cast off the things that were holding you down, you become solid like the rest of the world.

This interpretation was extremely fun to read.  At every turn, there was something or somebody new and fun.  A couple of the people who rejected heaven I found I had an unsettling resemblance to.  I'd like to see some comments as to whether anybody else saw themselves in the laughable caricatures of sinners.  I know that he wasn't intending it as an actual depiction of heaven, but his heaven sound like a place I'd really, really like to be at. 

Thursday, January 26, 2012

A Modest Proposal by Jonathan Swift

The full name is A Modest Proposal for Preventing the Children of Poor People in Ireland From Being a Burden on Their Parents or Country, and for Making Them Beneficial to the Publick.  It's a bit of a mouthful, though.  I've known about A Modest Proposal for quite some time, but reading Three Worlds Collide brought it to the forefront of my mind.

A Modest Proposal offers a cure for overpopulation and the horrible condition of the poor.  Whenever the author walks through a poor area, there are always women begging on the streets with several children attached to them.  Without all of those annoying children, they might be able to get out of begging and do something useful to society.  Also, those children cost a fair amount to raise after their first year.  Swift's proposal is that once the babies have been around about a year, when they are nice and plump, they could be sold for a nice sum to the dinner tables of rich people.  He even gives a number of recipes!  Almost every aspect of the economy would benefit from this new item going on the market.

When A Modest Proposal was written, pretty much every scheme under the sun had been proposed for getting rid of those pesky poor.  Many didn't treat the poor as people or made some impressive leaps of logic.  A Modest Proposal is a parody of these, as well as off many other attitudes of the time.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Limit by Kristen Landon

Matt was having a good time living with his family.  he had a 3.997 GPA and enough extra credit in English that he didn't need to do any more assignments for the rest of the year.  Unfortunately, he lives in a society where if somebody goes over the limit on something similar to a credit card, they have one of their children sent to a workhouse.  Guess what Matt's parents do?  Yep.

Once he gets there, he takes a test and ends up on the top floor, where the exceptionally smart kids are.  It's quite luxurious, with a pool, a gym, and a dance studio.  He can buy anything he wants, but if he wants his parents to get out of debt so that he can get home, he has to spend as little as possible on frivolities.  He works on complicated problems for major companies.  He must at the same time deal with some problems of his own: he seems unable to contact the outside world, one of his coworkers is never seen, and people on the lower floors are getting headaches and seizures.  What exactly is happening beneath the surface at this workhouse?

The Limit is fresh and exciting.  Time slipped away as I got lost in its pages.  Admittedly, the characters sometimes acted incredibly stupid for the sake of the plot, but that happened a lot less than in most books.  None of the parts dragged behind or made me impatient to get to the next thing.  Conversely, The Limit wasn't rushed and didn't skip details.  All in all, it was a wonderful book.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Vampirates: Demons of the Ocean by Justin Somper

Grace and Connor are twins who have always lived in a lighthouse.  One day, their father dies, and the bank takes the lighthouse.  Their only other options are becoming the bankers' children and staying at an orphanage, so they steal a ship and rush off to see.  Unfortunately, they get caught in a storm and their ship sinks.  The ship, that they mentioned that they were tied to with harnesses, sinks, and they are able to survive.  Those lovely harnesses just disappear once the ship sinks.  Grace is rescued by the same Vampirates she was warned about in her father's song.  Connor is rescued by regular pirates.  The captain of the regular pirates has a pet snake that eats dates.  As in the fruit.  On the ship, in his mock-battle with a regular pirate using mops, he wins on his second try, despite having never handled a sword.  Meanwhile, Grace must unravel the mystery of how the Vampirates' ship works.

Was the editor drunk?  There are many minor grammar errors that made me cringe.  Now, I probably have grammar and spelling errors on this blog, and I'd love it if you could point them out in the comments, but I don't have an editor.  I'll assume this book did have an editor, though this is a tenuous assumption.  I wish I had saved the page where a sentence is repeated twice in a paragraph, without any context or justification for doing so.

The characters were all a bit slow on the uptake.  Gee, you mean Lorcan wasn't really snubbing Grace?  Based on his behavior up to that point, I never would've guessed.

Justin Somper also does not know much about the things he writes about.  Captain Wrathe's snake eats dates.  There is not a single snake in the world that eats anything besides animals or insects.  The closest thing is a snake that eats eggs.  Also, if there is so much booty that is distributed fairly equally amongst the crew of the regular pirates' ship, then why do Bart and Connor have such dismal quarters?  Bart, at least, has been with the pirates for a while, and should have at least been able to obtain a better bed.

Vampirates had a good premise, but the obvious errors in grammar and fact made it hard for me to enjoy.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Only You can Save Mankind by Terry Pratchett

Sorry about the lack of an update yesterday.  A the time when I was about to write it, my computer wasn't with me.

The book starts with Johnny Maxwell playing a game called Only You can Save Mankind.  It's kind of like space invaders, only with much better graphics.  Every level, more of the ScreeWee aliens attack until you either beat the game or die.  Johnny has a hacked version that gives him a thousand or more lives.

All seems to be going normally until a message plays on his screen that appears to be from the ScreeWee: "We wish to talk."  He pauses it and leafs through the manual, but he can't find anywhere where the ScreeWee in the game are supposed to send him messages.  They tell Johnny that they want to surrender and they want him to help them get back to their home planet.  An interesting note here is that at first they tell him that they want to go back to Earth.  Johnny is horrified, but he soon learns that "Earth" is just what the translator gives for the ScreeWee word for their home planet.  This can also mean that the title of the book, as well as the game within the book, is meant as "Only you can save the ScreeWee" and "mankind" is just the translated version.

Soon, Johnny starts dreaming of the ScreeWee and of leading their fleet away, all the while killing off any player characters that want to kill the ScreeWee.  He thinks it's all just in his dreams until he learns that there have been worldwide complaints about all of the enemies disappearing from Only You can Save Mankind.  Of course, as Johnny learns in his dreams, some characters are willing to play for hours just so they can reach some ScreeWee to kill.  After that, you'll have to read to see what happens.

The whole time, Johnny interacts with his friends, Wobbler, Bigmac, and Yo-Less, watches as his parents get increasingly hostile to each other, and watches the Gulf War on TV.  The war causes Trying Times, which he believes means a bit more pocket money and a lot less adult interference.

Two scenes really stood out to me.  First of all, Wobbler created a game called Journey to Alpha Centauri, which is in real time and takes three thousand years to complete.  It reminds me a bit of Desert Bus, only taken to the extreme (Information on Desert Bus here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Penn_&_Teller%27s_Smoke_and_Mirrors#Desert_Bus ).  The second was a much deeper part where the ScreeWee fleet finds an abandoned ship from a previous, more primitive civilization that had been completely wiped out.  It was a Space Invaders ship. 

The contrast between the game-looking war on the television and the war-looking game on the computer won't be lost on anybody.  Neither will the motif of there being no differences between the genders besides the ones we decide on.  Both are played well.

If you want a story that tickles your brain and your funny bone at the same time while keeping you desperate for the next page, Only You can Save Mankind is the book for you.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

How to Confuse the Idiots in Your Life by Ben Goode

Hilarious.  A lot of the chapters are just funny quotes made up by the author.  The rest explain how to answer dumb questions posed by "idiots", which, by the author's definition, means anybody but him.  He makes himself out to be a hilariously horrible person.  Many times, it made me laugh out loud, and I was at least smiling through the whole book.

For example, people leave California after about the third or fourth time somebody in their family is hit by a drive-by shooting while sneaking out to get the newspaper.  In the quotes, it's a running gag to put some variation of "it sucks" ("I suck", "you suck", "he sucks", etc.) and attribute the quote to historical adolescents. 

The book was written to help people in a world where politicians and lawyers are all consistently evil.  It was written for those who reside where convoluted answers are perfectly acceptable and parking tickets are handed out on a regular basis.  In short, it's a funny book for people who live in a funny world.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Fire Dreams by Mallory Loehr

The three kids are tending a fire when a message appears in the fire.  Sparks form a piece of parchment.  It gives them instructions on how to travel by fire: they need to use copper in the morning, gold in the daylight, and silver at night.  The first time they travel, they end up smack in the middle of Hephaestus's forge.  They also create a new traveling companion, Junior the Child of Fire.  He is described as a golden robot who "looks like C-3PO" and acts a lot like C-3PO as well.  One could pretty much say that in everything but name, Junior is C-3PO.  They meet a Cyclops and go to mount Olympus on their second fire travel.  Read it to see what they do there and where they go with the last travel.

Joe seems to have learned his lesson.  He pauses a lot, as if barely restraining his inner jerk.  He actually listens to people younger than he is.  In fact, I would even say that Joe is no longer the most hate-able person in the story.

So far, the books have been all fun and frolic, but at the end of Fire Dreams, some serious stuff happens.  I can't really say whether this makes the books worse or makes them better.  They were fair as fun and frolic books, and the seriousness is a nice turn, but it could go either way.